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Baltimore City Schools CEO proposes budget for next year with little increase

Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises introduced a $1.16 billion budget for next year that would continue her focus on improving literacy, offering students a more well-rounded curriculum, and providing more social and emotional support to students.

If approved by the city school board, the budget would remain essentially flat, with just a $6 million overall increase. Santelises is not asking for an uptick in the $278 million the schools currently receive in city revenue.

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However, the budget introduced at Tuesday night’s school board meeting could change significantly when the amount of state funding coming from Annapolis is recalculated to include the Kirwan Commission money passed in this past legislative session. The legislation is expected to provide the city with up to $54.7 million more next year.

“Please keep in mind, with that number, that we’re still teasing out what the implications are for budgets,” Santelises said. “There are, for lack of a better term, strings attached to how that money must be spent. It’s not just an overall per-pupil allotment.”

Restrictions on how the Kirwan money is spent will force the city schools to give it to teacher salaries and special education. The Kirwan dollars would also provide schools that are located in areas of concentrated poverty with more money to give students tutoring and after-school activities, as well as support for students with mental health issues. About 100 schools in the city, most of them elementary schools, are in areas of concentrated poverty.

The additional money for teacher salaries would require more spending by the district. The city schools would have to provide a 1.5 percent increase in pay to get an equal amount matched by the state. The budget that Santelises introduced Tuesday night does not include any cost-of-living increases for teachers, though it does include the automatic increases under the contract.

The teachers and the school system are in the midst of negotiations. The current contract expires June 30.

Aside from the additional Kirwan funding, Santelises is moving money within the budget to hire 20 literacy coaches and 21 specialists who help students with social-emotional and behavior problems. The CEO began a push last year to expand those services in schools.

Under the proposed budget, each public school in the city would have at least one social worker.

“We need to provide a range of supports for our students,” said Alison Perkins-Cohen, chief of staff for the school district. “Even one [social worker] per school isn’t enough.”

School officials say they want to offer more students advanced classes, including Advanced Placement classes in high schools. Anne Fullerton, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the system is also looking at ensuring the career and technology classes are preparing students for careers that are now in demand.

Before the budget presentation Tuesday night, the school commissioners unanimously passed a policy allowing transgender students to use the names, pronouns and bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

The boardroom, which was packed with advocates, several of whom testified in favor of the measure, burst into applause.

Alaine Jolicouer, co-chair of the Baltimore City Commission’s education advocacy committee, who testified, stood up after the vote and called it “a symbolic and crucial moment.”

“I saw the need for this change, and I’m very happy to witness it today, not just myself but with members of my community,” Jolicouer said.

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